Even though beside her Sandy was still talking, Alex was now staring at Angel. Presumably he thought that money and power negated the need for common courtesy. He probably— The contemptuous observation was not completed because he had her hand in his.... How had that happened?
Myriad half-formed, disconnected thoughts flitted through her head as she stared at his hand, noting with a tightening in her chest that he still didn’t wear a wedding band. His brown hands were strong, the fingers long and tapering. Her weirdly heightened senses could make out the slight calluses on his palms. The more she tried not to think about them gliding over her skin, touching her, the more space the images took up in her head.
She squeezed her eyes closed.
Her loss of control could only have lasted a fraction of a second but it felt like a lot longer. When, a moment later, she was able to meet his eyes, what she saw there answered one question—he remembered.
She didn’t fall apart. Instead she manufactured a frown as if she were struggling to place him and then widened her eyes and nodded as though she had retrieved the memory she was searching for.
She rewarded herself with the faintest of smiles.
‘Alex Arlov.’ He tipped his sleek head and to her intense relief released her hand. How could I ever not have seen how arrogant he is? She grabbed a napkin from a passing tray and wiped it against the heel of her hand.
‘The name seems familiar...’ She gnawed lightly on her full lower lip, pretending to search her memory before producing a bright smile and pausing to stretch the moment, hoping like hell he was worrying she was going to out him. If it weren’t for Jas she would, and to hell with people knowing what a total fool she was.
But he didn’t look concerned, just vaguely amused, as he elevated one dark brow. ‘That happens to me all the time—an instantly forgettable face.’
And so full of yourself, she wanted to scream as she smiled back, unable to repress a shudder as she looked directly into his ice-blue dark-framed eyes.
She willed herself to relax. Let it go, she told herself, life moves on. He’s just a landmark moment, not a threat.
Her life had moved on, and, if time hadn’t completely healed the wounds, it had allowed her to see things from a different perspective. She had made a mistake, but that mistake had given her Jasmine; this man had given her a gift and he didn’t know. Jas didn’t know either, didn’t know who her father was and one day... Did she have to tell him?
‘Are you enjoying island life, Miss...?’ He arched a brow and studied her. Her features had lost some of their youthful softness, revealing the truly lovely bone structure of her face. She was, he recognised, one of those women who would only improve with age, perfect bone structure compensating for the slight blurring of features as the years passed.
Angel could see his mouth moving, a mouth that was a miracle of stern sensuality, a mouth she had dreamed of. But all she could hear was, You’re married. Pride had been the only thing that day that had prevented her from crumbling when she had heard him speak the words that had crushed her, words that had turned what she had thought was beautiful into something nasty and sordid.
She blinked and struggled to focus as he repeated himself. Paul, the advertising executive who had followed Alex across the room, caught the question and said, ‘We’re all on first-name terms here—aren’t we, Angel?’
Reminded of a puppy dog eager to please, she flicked a glance his way. She felt sorry for the man, but not as sorry as she felt for herself.... This was a nightmare.
Breathe, she told herself. You’ve coped with worse.
Such as once she had got back to her room in the university residence, when she had locked the door and stood under a shower for forty minutes but still hadn’t been able to wash off that feeling of self-disgust, shame and the bitterness of disillusion.
Finally she had stopped indulging in the orgy of misery and given herself a stern talking-to.
‘What are you going to do, Angel? Stay in here for ever?’ Wiping the steam off the mirror, she had glared at her tear-stained face. ‘Your problem is you’re a dreamer, a stupid dreamer. You wanted deep and meaningful, you wanted to wait, you wanted the first time to be with someone who made you feel special. Well, you didn’t get the prince—you didn’t even get the frog!’ She quite liked frogs. ‘So what? Big deal, just suck it up, Urquart.’
It had been good advice then and it still was.
Her chin lifted. ‘Angel Urquart, and I’m not actually here to enjoy myself, just to work.’ She failed to inject any warmth or animation into her voice, but she managed to deliver the comment with composure. You’re doing well, Angel, she told herself as she clenched her fingers tight, driving her nails into the softness of her palms.